PM, Peres honor Ephraim Katzir and Menachem Begin

Netanyahu: Begin was a great statesman, whose leadership was evident even before Israel came into being, was a great believer in social justice.

Peres, Netanyahu at IAF ceremony 311 (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)
Peres, Netanyahu at IAF ceremony 311
(photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)
At an annual ceremony on Sunday honoring deceased presidents and prime ministers, President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu emphasized the importance of remembering national leaders, their deeds, and their legacies.
Both men spoke at the gathering at Beit Hanassi. The ceremony is usually held in the spring, on the first day of the Hebrew calendar month of Nissan, which is known as the “New Year of Kings.”
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At the ceremony, prizes are awarded by the president and prime minister to researchers of politics and history who have produced the year’s best works related to specific leaders. This year the ceremony was deferred because of incomplete renovations at Beit Hanassi.
Looking back more than three decades, Peres said that he still remembered the unforgettable image of Katzir and Begin striding across the red carpet on the airport tarmac to greet Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.
“It was like a fable from another world,” Peres recalled. “It was an unprecedented development in relations between the two countries.”
Although he and Begin did not come from the same political camp, Peres said, it did not prevent him from recognizing Begin’s greatness, integrity and commitment to peace. Even when people in his party were against him, Peres continued, Begin stood firm for what he believed in declaring that war was preventable, but peace was inevitable.
Both Peres and Netanyahu also underscored Begin’s uncompromising respect for the rule of law. It was very important to him, each of them noted, to uphold the law and serve the nation. Even when he was in the opposition, Peres said Begin was fond of saying that he was proud to be a servant of the people.
As for Katzir, Peres said that what he had done as a scientist for Israel’s security was remarkable. Katzir, Peres noted, also laid the foundation for Israel’s hi-tech industry – adding that although he was one of the world’s most renowned, prizewinning biophysicists, he was an extraordinarily modest man.
Netanyahu praised Katzir for directing his scientific research towards national security.
“It has become increasingly clear that our security depends on advanced technology,” said Netanyahu, who also discussed the great price that Katzir had to pay when he left his research to embark on public life.
“He was a prime example not only of modesty, but of personal sacrifice,” said Netanyahu.
When discussing Begin, Netanyahu said that he was so multi-faceted that it was difficult to describe him.
Begin, he said, was a great statesman, whose leadership was evident even before Israel came into being, said Netanyahu.
The prime minister also lauded Begin for preventing a civil war after the Altelana ship – which carried hundreds of Holocaust survivors and armaments – was fired upon by Yitzhak Rabin on David Ben-Gurion’s orders.
Begin, Netanyahu added, also sought to improve the economy, eradicate poverty and provide equal opportunities for all citizens. Indeed, he was a great believer in social justice, said Netanyahu.
In this context, Netanyahu turned to Israel’s housing problem and said: “The housing market suffers from cartels, with no equal in the developed world.”
He also doubted that any other country rivaled Israel’s bureaucratic red tape strangling the planning aspect of housing.
“We must change this, and we will introduce dramatic legislation in order to do so,” he said.
Arye Naor, who was Begin’s first cabinet secretary and one of the winners of prizes and citations at Sunday’s ceremony, said that Begin had come to office with a clear social agenda.
“He didn’t achieve everything that he wanted, but he did change the course of history,” Naor said.